The Story of Willis
Source: Cambrian Index Online - City and County of Swansea
On the 24th January 1833 a large American ship laden with copper ore arrived in Swansea docks. The ship was named the St. Peter and had departed from Cabija in Chile. On board was a black man named Willis who was approximately 20 years of age. Willis was a slave acting as a cook on board the St.Peter and he had heard that if he were to set foot onto Welsh soil then he would become a free man. Willis applied to the Portreeve, T. Edw. Thomas, Esq. requesting advice on this point. Upon receiving the request, the Portreeve instantly left the Old Guildhall and visited the ship to ascertain the truth of whether Willis had indeed been a slave on board the vessel. Unable to locate the captain at that instant, the worthy magistrate lost no time in assuring Willis that by the laws of the land he was now emancipated. Heartfelt delight was experienced by all that were present, especially for Willis, who for the first moment of his life felt that he was a free man.
Later, the captain of the ship offered Willis a job for the return journey, but he declined fearing he would once again become a slave. The following morning, Willis had a written discharge from the ship and despite not being entitled to any wages, the Captain generously gave him two sovereigns.
Footsteps to Freedom
The Gift of Belonging